BORIS JOHNSON is making a big call: he is removing legal restrictions when Covid infection rates are rising, and they are rising faster here in the North-East than almost anywhere in the country.

No other country is making this apparently contradictory choice, but then almost no other country has had such a successful vaccination campaign.

Two arguments the Prime Minister made yesterday have resonance: we need to make the most of the natural firebreak provided by the school holiday, and if we don’t unlock in the height of summer, we can’t expect to unlock in the autumn and winter when the virus, like flu, will be at its strongest.

But facemasks are going to be the battleground. It is clear that scientists believe that facemasks do have a role to play in crowds, particularly on public transport. Professor Chris Whitty said yesterday he would continue to wear his mask out of “common courtesy”, but not everyone is as courteous as he is. There is a real risk of confrontation here, between the masked and the unmasked, and there is also a possibility that the most vulnerable will continue to be prisoners in their own homes not wishing to come face to face, say on the bus, with an unmasked person.

This is why 71 per cent of people still favour mandatory masks.

Masks are also a physical reminder that we are just living with Covid. We haven’t beaten it; we still need to take care of ourselves and others.

If it is to remove legal compulsion, the Government needs a high impact campaign to make the failure to wear a mask socially unacceptable, at least until infection rates have stopped rising.